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38 years after, Shagari’s manifestos still big issues in Nigeria

The next round of national election is due for 2023. Politicians’ manifestos are sure to centre on basic needs of Nigerians, 38 years after Shehu Shagari’s National Party of Nigeria (NPN) campaigned for votes in 1983 on such promises.

The politicians will sing the same lullabies to rock the weary and long-suffering Nigerians to perpetual sleep.

Several administrations and governments have come and gone, yet, those basic needs of life have continued to elude the people.

In 1983, during his campaign for re-election as president, Shagari had promised: “Free qualitative education guaranteed, plus…electricity and water for every town and village…effective medical services, plus…self sufficiency in food production…industrial transformation of Nigeria, and more houses for the masses.”

In Nigeria, the popular contents of campaign promises include; provision of pipe-borne water, good roads, stable electricity, quality education, quality healthcare, food security and employment opportunities.

These were also the contents of Olusegun Obasanjo’s campaign manifestos in 1999; Umaru Musa Yar’ Adua toed the same line in 2007, while Goodluck Jonathan and Muhammadu Buhari only added security to the list. It has been the same old story to date. Current reality on ground can prove if the promises have been kept.

When politicians begin to travel the length and breadth of the country soliciting for votes towards the 2023 election, top on their manifestos would be power, water supply, job creation, free education, jumbo pay for civil servants, good roads, security of lives and property, affordable or free housing for the masses.

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Many Nigerians believe that the situation of the country is even worse now than in 1983.

Despite Nigeria’s huge potential and natural endowments, citizens have in the last few decades witnessed worsening conditions of living. Across the country there is the feeling of despair among the citizenry.

Sadly, despite humongous amount of dollars that had accrued to Nigeria through the sale of crude oil over these years, it has not positively impacted the people.

A former African country (names withheld) was quoted as saying: “Honestly speaking, seeing what Qatar and Saudi Arabia are doing with their oil money makes me wonder if Nigeria is selling coconut oil.”

The living conditions of Nigerians have been steadily worsening. Things have been so bad, even as the ravaging effects of the Coronavirus pandemic take their toll. The economy has nosedived abysmally, increasing the miseries of ordinary Nigerians.

Though successive governments from the First to the present Fourth Republic have always promised to turn the table around and provide basic means of livelihood such as water, electricity, quality education, employment opportunities, security, however, these promises have been a mirage.

Citizens are fast losing faith in the government given the current state of affairs in the country, as it appears that the situation has largely remained the same over the decades, despite promises made to Nigerians since the return to civil rule in 1999.

There is no doubt that the joy and euphoria that heralded the emergence of President Muhammadu Buhari as the country’s president in 2015, are gradually giving way to disillusionment.

Currently, Nigeria is known as the poverty capital of the world. The nation just exceeded India with the largest rate of people living in extreme poverty which is about 86.9 million.

Experts have blamed corruption, inequality, and unemployment for the situation; they say that Nigeria must urgently initiate necessary reforms in the economy.

However, there is the fear that the situation may worsen, due to the falling oil prices coupled with the COVID-19 pandemic which could plunge the Nigerian economy into a severe economic crisis not seen for decades.

Some observers have blamed the failure of leadership for the country’s woes. They say that the reason why Nigeria has remained stagnated since the Second Republic and now is because of leadership failure.

“If you look at the United States for instance, the country has been in existence for over 245 years and still standing tall and strong as an economic world power, but the same cannot be said about Nigeria that is 61 years,” Adelaja Adeoye, a public commentator, said.

“You then ask yourself, did America spend 60 years to get its act together? The answer is no. The country was built on true democracy and strong institutions, which revolve around making life easier for all Americans,” he further said.

Adelaja added that the part of the problem bedeviling the country was the unpopular constitution and growing impunity by the incumbent administration.

According to him, “In Nigeria, to start with, we now operate a Constitution that seems to empower a section of the country politically, economically and religiously. Such cannot ensure and assure democracy that is supposed to be a government for the people, by the people and for the people.

“Nigeria also has a set of lawless human beings who care less about rule of law, with many of them working hard to subjugate the law. How then would you have a country that is functional?

“For us to move ahead, there is a need for orientation and attitudinal change with a new constitution that will guarantee equal rights, peace, unity and justice for all Nigerians.

“The elite group needs to make up their minds because the system they are promoting to stay in power cannot be sustainable, and it is a short-lived approach. They should, from the local government, state, National Assembly leadership level down to the Presidential, begin to support a new structure and system that will enhance our development and growth”.

Also, Eddy Olafeso, a chieftain of the PDP said the worsening economy situation was a failure of leadership and wrong policies, while equally blaming the failure of the electoral system which according to him had always been manipulated by fraudulent individuals to enter public offices.

“Everyone knows this government has mismanaged the economy, wrong policies, you only hear about the huge budget, what about the implementation that would alleviate the suffering of Nigerians.

“I think we have always had issues from independence, or after that, there has always been acrimony among our leaders on what the structure of the country should be and even every election has always ended in controversy,” he said.

“Let even look from 1999, look at the elections conducted, have they been credible? The quality of your elections would tell on the kind of leaders that you have and their ability to govern makes the required impact. The APC promised heaven and earth in 2015 how far have they gone? Did Buhari win in 2019?”

In the early 60s, the World Bank projected that countries such as Nigeria, India and Brazil are going to take the world by storm in terms of rapid economic development.

The projection was based on sustainable efforts by these countries to develop and optimise their natural resources for further development of their countries.

Surprisingly, agriculture was the mainstay of the Nigerian economy then and it was delivering.

Today, all the success stories are history as India and Brazil have all overtaken Nigeria long ago in all economic and development indices.

Of course, the manifestos that dominated campaign rallies in the 70s, 80s, 90s and even for 2023 are the same.

Most aggrieved and concerned Nigerians think that the country is no longer stagnant, but worsening in terms of underdevelopment, economic downturn, corruption, societal ills and insecurity because politicians are still using obsolete manifesto, (which they hardly fulfil) when the world has moved on.

Chijioke .J. Umelahi, a former Abia State lawmaker, who now runs a law firm in Abuja, confessed to have made such promises during his campaign, but was unable to fulfil even 40 percent of them because of the many hurdles his sponsors put on his way.

“It is a shame that we promise pipe-borne water when all the public taps are dilapidated and individuals are sinking boreholes at home and business premises. If the promises of quality health facilities are fulfilled and the handlers paid well, our doctors will not be leaving for greener pastures abroad. It is a shame and I share in the blame,” Umelahi decried.

But, Sam Ajanaku Onikoyi, a Nigerian historian and Commonwealth researcher based in Brussels, shifts the blame on the gullible citizens, who he said have severally missed the opportunities of holding the political class responsible for their actions and inactions in office.

“I was surprised to wake up by the noise of protesters in my neighbourhood in June this year who were demonstrating at the local county office because of the announcement of a five-hour power outage in the area, for routine repairs. The county authority intervened and it was reduced to 1 hour. Nigerians do not want to put their lives on the line and still hope for change,” he said.

Onikoyi lamented that the political class knows that Nigerians will not fight for their rights or when they resist, they do not hold on for long, hence politicians keep taking advantage of their failure to hold office holders accountable.

“You hear about billions found in a house at Ikoyi in Lagos; power companies hiking prices without supplying electricity, tuition fees going out of the reach of the poor and nobody is doing anything to challenge it. Where are the student unions, labour unions, our mothers and women who will usually fight when nobody does? If we cannot challenge these, then how can we hold politicians accountable for their failure to fulfill their campaign promises?” he asked.

Also, Anele Oguezi, an associate professor at Alex Ekwueme Federal University, Ebonyi State, insisted that the campaign promises are never fulfilled because no sustained action was taken by the masses to force the politicians to fulfil them.

“We know that there are god-fathers to settle, parties to pay allegiance to and personal pockets to fill before leaving office. But the only way to ensure these do not happen is by forcing the politicians to work, always rallying them, staging town hall to review achievements, taking the recall measure if the stealing persists. Some people will be locked for challenging the status quo, but it will work when we persist,” the associate professor said.

Suggesting how Nigeria can break the jinx of unfulfilled election campaign promises, Onikoyi said it may require extreme measures as politicians are going extreme to secure their mandate and pockets by doing so.

“Local governments, states and the entire country can decide to boycott elections starting with 2023 if the wrong candidates are fielded. I have witnessed election boycotts in Brussels and they worked in the favour of the people. Nigerian masses should leave religion and ethnicity and pressure for their welfare because they are the ones growing poorer, suffering the hardship, and not the politicians that divide them,” Onikoyi said.

But the former Abia State lawmaker thinks that recalling political office holders by their constituencies will make others more accountable. He also fears that the judicial system has been manipulated in recent times to favour political office holders who can easily bribe their way out of such controversies.

I have been in the House of Assembly and seen how difficult it is to impeach even the speaker and not to talk of the governor. Again, it is even more cumbersome to recall a serving senator or House of Representatives member. But this would have been the perfect check on politicians, but the most difficult way to ensure accountability,” the former Abia State lawmaker decried.

For the 2023 campaign and manifestoes, many observers of Nigerian politics and concerned citizens do not see change coming as the political class is more desperate to hold on to power, considering the defections across party lines and realignments ensuing from early next year.

“We don’t expect politicians to change. They easily change parties, but their interests are permanent. So, the masses are the ones to change from their lackadaisical nature. If they boycott elections things will change, if they manage to recall some politicians now, things will change, if they stage protests and insist until their demands are met then there will be change. Until the masses change, election campaign promises will never be fulfilled,” the observers said.

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